Edward GREGSON (b. 1945)
Music for Chamber Orchestra (1968) [23:27]
Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (1978) [15:41]
Goddess (2009) [9:40]
Stepping Out (1996) [3:13]
A Song for Chris (2007) [17:59]
Peter Moore (trombone); Guy Johnston (cello)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey
rec. Watford Colosseum, 1-3 March 2010. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10627 [70:30]

Edward Gregson is a versatile and prolific composer who may be particularly well known and appreciated for his imaginative works for wind and brass bands. That said, the three Chandos discs (CHAN 10105; CHAN 10478) mainly devoted to some of his numerous concertos show that he is also a successful composer of orchestral music. One of his earliest orchestral works, if not his first substantial score for orchestra, is the Music for Chamber Orchestra completed in 1968 when the composer was a mere twenty-three year old. It is dedicated to his teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Alan Bush. It might be regarded as a sort of chamber symphony although the title and some of the music rather points towards Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. The Bartók model clearly shows through in the fugal introduction of the first movement. Other influences such as Hindemith and Shostakovich may be spotted here and there, but the music already displays remarkable assurance. The second movement is a lively, fleet-footed Scherzo with some fugal writing again. The slow movement is a somewhat more serious affair. The Finale is a lively rondo with a jolly, jaunty main theme. This is clearly a young man’s work, ambitious while still showing some of his influences. I found it wholly convincing.

Composed some ten years later, the Trombone Concerto is clearly a fully mature work. It is compact and is in one single movement, albeit falling into several contrasted sections. The slow introduction states some basic material on which much of the ensuing music is based. It leads into a series of varied episodes in which the trombone’s agility and lyrical voice are exploited in turn. After an imposing climax the music calms down in a slow lyrical section followed by the soloist’s cadenza, at first unaccompanied, later joined by the orchestra. It thus bridges into the final section that dances along until it stops rather abruptly. A brief restatement of the very opening is capped by a brilliant final flourish. The soloist’s part is quite demanding although it does not call for any “modern playing tricks and gimmicks”. Peter Moore is a fine player technically and musically who has the full measure of the music.

Two Pictures for String Orchestra was not originally conceived as a true diptych since Stepping Out was composed in 1996 and Goddess in 2009. Goddess, inspired by a painting of Dorothy Bradford in whose memory the work was composed, is a beautiful and moving elegy with an eloquent part for solo viola. The chiming climax is somewhat reminiscent of Vasks or Pärt. Stepping Out, of which this is the second recording (the first is on Chandos CHAN 10105), is a short, dashing work of great energy which the composer rather jocularly describes as “John Adams meets Shostakovich, with a bit of Gregson thrown in”. Anyway this short work is the perfect encore for any concert of string music and, as such, deserves a permanent place in the repertoire.

A Song for Chris for cello and chamber orchestra was composed in memory of Christopher Rowland, a friend and colleague of the composer. Christopher Rowland was a member of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet who – among other things – recorded the first complete set of Shostakovich’s string quartets. The composer mentions that “the ghost of Shostakovich looms large throughout the concerto in more ways than one”. These words need some explanation, some of which will be heard in the music itself. The work opens with a brooding meditation by the soloist alone. At first somewhat fragmentary the music coalesces as it unfolds. It then opens into the second section Intermezzo in which the composer weaves the start of Shostakovich’s Third String Quartet (composed in 1946, the year Rowland was born). A short cadenza-like passage leads into the third section Toccata-Scherzo in which echoes from Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto may also be spotted. This ends with a forceful timpani tattoo leading into the final section Song in which a simple melody, already heard in various guises earlier in the work, soon builds in intensity before reaching its optimistic close. A Song for Chris is a deeply moving and strongly expressive work as well as a highly personal statement on the composer’s part. I am in no doubt that this is the finest work in this release. Guy Johnston plays with committed intensity and superb technique. This is a work that definitely should be in any cellist’s repertoire.

This release is the worthy successor to the earlier volumes, be it for the high quality of the playing, the very fine recorded sound and – most importantly – the quality of the music itself. I hope that more will follow soon. In the meantime I cannot but recommend this release most heartily.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Brian Wilson

A worthy successor to the earlier volumes. Splendid works in excellent performances and superb recording.